Amtrak has informed federal, state and local officials along the route of the daily Southwest Chief that, with the enactment of the recent full-year funding bill by Congress, it will provide matching funds to enable a federal grant to be awarded for safety and reliability upgrades on the train’s route in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.
Last year the railroad floated the concept of a bus bridge — stubbing the train in Garden City and Albuquerque, New Mexico, and using charter buses to shuttle passengers between the two stops. The move would have ended train service to seven cities in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico.
Rail advocates claimed at the time that a bus bridge would lead to the destruction of the Southwest Chief — and it would halt a possible expansion of another route, the Heartland Flyer northward out of Oklahoma to Wichita and Newton.
“As the divide between urban and rural communities in America continues to expand, passenger rail services like the Southwest Chief are valuable in connecting Kansans to the rest of the country,” Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan) said.
“Local communities whose residents and businesses depend on Amtrak should be provided the stability of rail service that the Southwest Chief has delivered to them for decades, which is why I am pleased that Amtrak has upheld its commitment to repair, improve and continue the Southwest Chief rail line. I appreciate my colleagues from New Mexico and Colorado and our bipartisan efforts to keep this line in service.”
The Rail Passengers Association recently did a study that showed that the bus bridge would have caused a loss of $180 million annually between Dodge City and Albuquerque – and $17 million in Kansas.
Earlier this month, Congress passed and the President signed into law the FY2019 Appropriations Act, which included critical funding for Amtrak and intercity passenger rail. The legislation set aside at least $50 million of its National Network grant for improvements to the Southwest Chief route. Amtrak is using $3 million of these funds to match a $16 million grant successfully sought by these states, counties and cities and awarded to Colfax County, N.M. The grant and matching funds from the partners will result in an investment of more than $26 million.
Amtrak and BNSF Railway began community discussions regarding needed route safety and other infrastructure improvements in 2011. Since then, more than $80 million has been committed from U.S. DOT grant programs, state and local governments, Amtrak and BNSF.
Amtrak will use the newly available federal capital funding in coordination with these stakeholders to continue needed work on the next route segment in New Mexico. Amtrak is also working on a long-term financial plan with our state and local partners to address the unique challenges of this route, particularly where Amtrak is the only user of these BNSF tracks in Colorado and New Mexico.
The Southwest Chief, Amtrak trains 3 & 4, provides a daily service between Chicago and Los Angeles and is the shortest and fastest Amtrak route between those cities.